Lawyers for a double-murderer whose lethal injection in
Arizona dragged on for two hours called for an outside review
of the "horrifically botched execution" and prompted new calls
on Thursday for the United States to abandon the death penalty.
The ordeal in putting Joseph Wood to death on Wednesday at a
prison facility southeast of Phoenix followed lethal
injections that went awry this year in Ohio and Oklahoma,
renewing the U.S. debate over capital punishment.
Corrections officials said Wood was never in pain but Rob
Freer, a U.S. researcher with human-rights group Amnesty
International, asked, "How many more times do officials need
to be reminded of the myth of the 'humane execution' before
they give up on their experiment with judicial killing?"
States that impose the death penalty have been scrambling to
find new suppliers of chemical combinations to use in lethal
injections after their former suppliers, primarily European
drug makers, objected to having their products used to put
people to death.
Witnesses described Wood, 55, has having struggled for breath
during his execution, while state officials said he had
simply been snoring.
"He gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40
minutes," said Dale Baich, one of Wood's lawyers, who watched
the execution and tried to stop it. He called for an
An Arizona Republic journalist who witnessed the execution
said he counted Wood gasping for air about 660 times before
As authorities struggled to put Wood to death, his attorneys
took the extraordinary step of filing emergency court
petitions seeking to cut short the procedure, arguing Wood
was being subjected to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual
But U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the
appeal and Wood was pronounced dead one hour and 57 minutes
after the execution had officially begun.
State Corrections Director Charles Ryan disputed suggestions
that Wood had suffered, saying that once sedated - five
minutes into the procedure - the inmate "did not grimace or
make any further movement."
Ryan characterized Wood's breathing as "sonorous respiration,
or snoring," and said execution team members with whom he
conferred during the process assured him "unequivocally that
the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress."
He added that the time it takes to complete an execution
varies for each individual.
'DIED IN A LAWFUL MANNER'
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer expressed concern over how long
the procedure lasted and ordered a review by prison
But Baich insisted the inquiry should be independent, saying
that in opposing his client's earlier appeals, the state had
"fought tooth and nail to protect the extreme secrecy
surrounding its lethal injection drugs and execution
"An independent investigation, led by someone outside of the
Department of Corrections and outside of the executive branch
of state government, must fully explore the practices which
led to tonight's horrifically botched execution," he said.
Brewer said in a statement that justice was done and that
Wood had "died in a lawful manner ... in stark comparison to
the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two
Wood was found guilty in 1991 of fatally shooting his former
girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, 29, and her father, Gene Dietz, 55,
two years earlier at a family automobile body shop in Tucson.
Arizona's Supreme Court cleared the way for Wood to be
executed on Wednesday, lifting an 11th-hour stay of execution
that had briefly been granted on the basis of questions he
raised about the mix of drugs to be administered to him.
In January, Dennis McGuire was put to death in Ohio using a
sedative-painkiller mix of midazolam and hydromorphone, the
first such combination used for a U.S. lethal injection. The
execution took about 25 minutes, with McGuire reportedly
convulsing and gasping for breath.
Arizona had said it would use the same combination of drugs
on Wood but at higher doses.
A different sort of mishap occurred in April in Oklahoma,
where killer Clayton Lockett writhed in pain as a needle
became dislodged during his lethal injection. The process was
halted in that case, but Lockett died shortly after of a
heart attack. (Additional reporting by Scott Malone; Writing
by Steve Gorman; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Bill Trott)